Last week marked 10 years since the deadly collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, killing over 1100 garment workers.
What happened at Rana Plaza?
On the morning of April 24, 2013, thousands of garments workers were arriving at the 9-storey Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, ready to start their long day in the factory. A factory which produced garments for some of the largest names in the fast fashion industry, but we'll get into that shortly.
Workers had voiced their safety concerns to management, as structural cracks had been found in the building the day before. But being a fast fashion factory, with tight deadlines to adhere to, workers were forced to get to work.
Around midday, there was a building-wide power outage, which caused the generators on the roof to begin running. And then, the building collapsed. Killing over 1132 workers, and injuring 2600 more, this was the deadliest fashion disaster in history.
But how could they let this happen?
As we mentioned earlier, this disaster was a direct result of the tight deadlines, extremely low wages, and unethical labour in fast fashion. If garment workers were respected and had access to safe working conditions, so many lives could have been saved.
Aside from that, the building was never structurally sound to begin with. What started as a 5-storey building soon turned into an 8-storey building without the additional structural support. Why? Because they wanted to increase output at the lowest possible cost. But we know what you're thinking – what about the cost of the garment worker's lives?
Who was responsible for this disaster?
The factory owner should have been more cautious about employee safety, but with millions of dollars in contracts from fast fashion brands, not meeting a deadline is simply not an option.
Garments from fast fashion brands like Walmart, The Children's Place, and Primark were found in the rubble of the disaster.
10 years later - what's changed?
As much as we hate the fact that it took a disaster of this magnitude to spark real change in the industry, we've come a long way. After the collapse, protests broke out around the world, demanding better treatment of garment workers, and increased transparency about where our clothing is made.
The Clean Clothes Campaign, based in the Netherlands, works to ensure the fundamental rights of garment workers are respected. They also promote collective action among consumers, and lobby governments and companies to improve the working conditions of the global garment and sportswear industries.
Remake launched their #PayUp and #WhoMadeMyClothes campaigns, which encourages brands to pay workers what they are owed, and demands transparency about who and how your clothes were made. These revolutions have taken off around the world, and now more consumers than ever are making more conscious decisions about the brands they choose to support.
Good Clothes Fair Pay is a European Citizens’ Initiative for living wages in the fashion supply chain. They demand top-down legislation that helps achieve fair pay for textile and garment workers around the world.
What can we do to take action?
We've come a long way, but there's always more to be done in pursuit of a more ethical fashion industry. Considering that 80% of garment workers are women, this issue is not only an environmental and ethical problem, but a feminist problem too.
But don't worry, there are a few quick and easy things you can do today to help make a change!
First off, we can be more conscious with our shopping habits. We know sustainable fashion is not in everyone's budget, but if possible, try to support small ethical brands who produce locally. If that's not financially feasible, you can choose to purchase less from fast fashion brands, hopefully encouraging them to slow down production.
When you see a petition that aligns with your values, sign it! It takes less than a minute, and while you may think one more signature doesn't matter, it absolutely does! 1 million people signing one name makes a big difference.
And lastly, email brands who are lacking transparency and ask for more information. Accountability leads to change, and we are all responsible for doing our part to hold these brands accountable to basic human rights and worker safety.